I'm telling you right off, that this collection gets a 10 on the Claire scale. I adore it - as harsh as it is. This is the collection that Brokeback Mountain came from (a movie I love), but so many other stories in here would make great movies too. I'm using this as a jump off point for yet another challenge - 100 Shots of Short. And now the stories:
Half-Skinned Steer - Brothers Mero and Rollo raised on a ranch with their father and his girlfriend. This story revolves around one brother returning to the ranch after being long gone for a very long time. The story within a story that everything revolves around is absolutely nightmare-inducing.
The Mud Below - About a teenage boy who gets into bull riding. The ending - particularly the last two paragraphs - are beautiful. A poignant look at how we get to where we are in life.
Job History - This story was one of my favorites. A rushed telling of a man's life from beginning to end. Everything is told emotionlessly in just highlights and snippets. I loved this partially because it reminded me of sitting on the porch of one of my mother's closest friends. I was elementary school aged, and the lady's house was just down the street from my school in a tiny tiny one street township. Nothing happened in that little pocket of the word without everyone taking note. I would sit on the floor of that beat-up rickety porch and listen to my mother and her friend gossip about any and everyone - their whole lives reduced to just a few instances and decisions. This story took me right back there.
The Blood Bay - This is a fun bit of a punchline at the end of a gruesome bit of a story.
People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water - The most powerful one in the whole book. It tells the story of parents dealing with the prodigal son who is disfigured by a terrible accident. This one is going to haunt me for a long long time. If you read any of these stories, make it this one.
The Bunchgrass at the End of the World - This one ventures into a bit of magical realism. (I swear every time I turned to a new story, Proulx managed to surprise me with her skill in storytelling). This story is about a couple living on a ranch with the husband's difficult father as well as their lonely, plump daughter. There is a beautiful bit in here about a wedding where the guests, unable to afford rice, shower the couple with wheat. The imagery made my fingers ache to pick up a paintbrush. (I so need some more art classes so I can give into this sort of ache more often).
Pair of Spurs - This is the only story of the bunch that I didn't adore. I liked all the components to the story - the characters, the situations, and so on. I just didn't feel that it all came together that well.
Lonely Coast - Another gorgeous story that could have been plucked out of any small town. The mood of boredom and desperation that swirls around the main characters is perfect.
The Governors of Wyoming -
55 Miles to the Gas Pump - Never have I been so chilled by so few words.
Brokeback Mountain - The movie stays so true to this brief little tale. It's gorgeous and spare and absolutely heart-wrenching.
I finished this book convinced that Proulx can do anything with her words. It's a hard read. There's so much brutality. At first, I was concerned that I wouldn't make it through; it seemed that every story contained malevolence towards women. And things aren't pretty for most of the women in these stories, but neither are they so great for the men. She paints Wyoming, both is past and its present, as an amazing, beautiful and harsher than can be imagined place. It really is a gorgeous and stirring read.